For the Easter Holidays my Uncle Sal Arestia, my Aunt Mary’s husband, used to make this every year. My father, who came from Ragusa like my uncle, says his mother used to make it for him as well. It’s a real specialty in my father’s town.
No one has made this dish in my family since my Uncle Sal passed away more than 25 years ago. I did a little family research and came up with the original recipe my uncle used. Today my father is 92 years old and just the other week mentioned how he used to love eating this mpanada agnello specialty when he was a little boy. I surprised him one weekend when he was over and served him “mpanada agnello”. Boy, did he enjoy it! Like a kid in a candy store. He couldn’t get enough. That’s what I love about certain foods. It feeds the soul. I asked him if it tasted like his mothers. He said it was really tasty, but his mother used to make it with chunks of lamb with the bone still on it. I asked him, “how do you eat this pie if there are bones in it?” “With a knife and fork”, he said. “You pull out the meat and eat the meat around the bones. The bones add extra flavor to the mpanada.” Well, I guess I missed that part. I guess the pie holds together the whole package, bones and all. And you just cut into it and eat it that way. I prefer it without the bones. We live in a convenient society and I like just picking this up and eating it like a sandwich. Either way, it’s a matter of preference.
Even without the bones, my father really enjoyed it. So did I.
The sweetness of the onions permeates the lamb and the red sauce flavored with red wine gives this savory dish a mouth watering appeal. Brought me back to Easter 1960. I served this with a side of escarole cooked with garlic and olive oil. What a treat!
For the dough
- 2 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 envelopes of dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
In a bowl mix 1 cup of warm water, sugar and the yeast. Add ½of the flour, mix until it is well blended and a soft dough is obtained. Combine remaining flour, the oil, salt and knead to obtain an elastic dough, similar to bread dough. Make a ball, put it in a lightly greased bowl, cover and put in a warm place until it almost doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours.
In a 4 qt. saucepan, over a medium flame heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil with the onions and the lamb. Saute until the onions are light golden in color and the lamb is browned on all sides. You will get a lot of moisture in the pan from the lamb. Let that cook off and then the onion and lamb will brown. Add wine and increase to a high heat to allow the alcohol to quickly evaporate. Lower heat to a medium flame and add tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste; cook for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
You should wind up with a thick sauce coating the lamb.
Divide the risen dough in half. Roll out one half into a 16 inch circle and place in a lightly greased pan. Spoon the lamb mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1 inch space around the edges. Moisten the edges with water and roll out the second piece of dough and place on top. Seal and crimp the edged and cut 2 or 3 slits on the top to allow the steam to escape.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake 15 minutes. Brush the top with olive oil and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.
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